5 Things to Consider Before Engaging in an Online Political Debate

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Like most people, I am glad that the 2016 President Election is (for the most part) behind us. It has been a relief to be able to get on Facebook and other social media sites without being blasted with constant news articles and political posts from everyone trying to make sure that their opinion is heard and known to everyone. Like I mentioned in my previous post, Craving to be Appreciated, everyone has a desire to validate their views, and they tend to be very passionate about their beliefs and will fight to defend them. While the disagreement and discussing different ideas often allows growth in society, it can also be detrimental to ourselves and our relationships with those around us if not done correctly. That is why I felt like I would share five tips that have helped me before I engage in a political debate (or any debate for that matter) online.

1. Don’t allow your emotions to get the best of you.

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I think that one of the biggest mistakes made people on social media is they tend to use it as a way to blow off steam, voice frustration, or as a personal journal to get their thoughts out. When people are upset, they often don’t think rationally and say things that they regret, are offensive, or can get them into trouble. CNBC posted an article a year ago about how your post on social media can get you fired if they reflect negatively on your company. The problem we run into is when we allow one thing to set us off without really understanding the issue or taking it out of context. Which leads me to my next tip:

2. Do your research.

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I am going to be honest for a minute here… One of my biggest pet peeves is for people to post something on social media without doing any research and only responding or reposting something they saw someone else post. One of the greatest pieces of advice I have received on this issue is an article from a professor I had a few years ago, Butler Cain. Cain mentions making sure that you are doing research into the article before posting it and that it is coming from a trustworthy source. Most people know which news sites they can trust, but most tend to stick to news sources that tend to share similar views as them. Which is why it is often important to remember to…

3.Beware of Biases (and the third-person effect)

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We live in a digital age that allows us to have so much information at our fingertips that it is easy to find information that supports our point of view. It seems like every debate I see on social media is a constant battle of people posting articles and statistics that support their point of view. A debate like this often focuses more on who’s right instead of what’s right and turns personal very quickly. Our informational, ideological, and partisan biases hinder us from being able to see many issues objectively. I know that I personally tend to be affected by the third-person effect, which happens when we feel we are not affected or influenced by the mass media but others (the third-person) are. The third person effect is often associated with advertisements but can also be seen in political views also.

I was enrolled in a government college course while I was in high school that helped shape how I gain opinions on news/political issues. My teacher made us use the New York Times, often seen as a more liberal source, to get all of the information for our assignments. He mentioned that since we are surrounded by conservative sources in the south, we needed to learn how to get our news from several sources. This helped me to get my news from numerous sources so that I am able to get the full story and not just the things that go along with my political views. To be fully educated on issues, you have to be willing to dig a little deeper and understand issues beyond how it is spun or media bias.

4. Understand That You Cannot Change Someone’s Viewpoint

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Like I mentioned before, it is easy for us to get caught up in the emotions involved with a political discussion and feel like we have to constantly defend our views. There is a very slim chance that we will change someone’s mind just by posting a political rant on Facebook or commenting on someone else’s post. In fact, there are brain studies that say that it is nearly impossible to change someone’s political belief.

Regarding this issue, Doris A. Graber and Johanna Dunaway state in their book, Mass Media and American Politics, that “Failure to pay attention to news may also spring from psychological factors. Cognitive balance theories postulate that people avoid information that disturbs their peace of mind, offends their political and social taste, or conflicts with information, attitudes, and feelings that they already hold. People are uncomfortable when exposed to ideas that differ from their own or that question the validity of their ideas. To avoid discomfort, people ignore discordant information. Selective exposure reduces the already slim chance that learning about different views will alter an individual’s established beliefs, attitudes, and feelings. Selectivity helps to explain the considerable stability in basic political orientations, such as party allegiance or foreign policy preferences.”

While political discussion allows growth in society that can bring positive change, heated political debates will do little to nothing to make a difference in people’s individual views. Since it is almost impossible to change someone’s political views, our political post on social media does not have nearly the impact we think we are going to have. That is why it is often important to…

5. Take a step back and disconnect

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There are numerous reasons to take an occasional break from social media and disconnect for a while. It is especially important whenever we are fired up about an issue. Instead of posting something that we will regret, or will get us fired, sometimes we should leave the computer or phone at home and go on a walk, get exercise, or spend time with loved ones. Social media tends to draw us in and keep our focus for extended amounts of time. We get addicted to the drama, attention, and desire to feel included that we often forget the most important things in life. Although it mainly focuses on taking a break from social media when you run a business, Forbes posted an article that talks about the benefits of taking a break. At the end of the day, we aren’t going to change someone’s political views, we will probably end up more upset, and we might lose friends in the process. Sometimes it is better to agree to disagree and acknowledge that political diversity and freedom of speech is what makes America what it is today. Change never happens from attacking or belittling someone because of their views. Change happens when we come together, recognize that it is okay to not agree with someone, and work together to bring positive change to the world we live in.